Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spelling Bee Winners! (...And Donation Opportunity.)

Soulemane and Estelle, my two Spelling Bee winners.

These are the two winners of my local spelling bee, Soulemane and Estelle, right after they won the competition -- when I took this picture, Estelle was still so nervous that she could barely talk, and Soulemane could barely stay still he was so excited.  They worked their butts off to win -- they studied at home, actually, and between classes I'd hear them saying the letters to themselves in their best American accents -- and I'm so proud of them!

Quick, fall in love with them.  K, now, the problem.  The prize that they've won is a trip to Natitingou, which is waaaaaay up north, to do the national spelling bee in June.  Lots of Peace Corps volunteers in Benin have done local spelling bees, and all of the winners will get together to compete, hang out, and get to see more of their own country... neither of these kids has been anywhere near that far north.  In order to get them there and house them, we PCVs need to raise money.  Every cent of donated money will go to the kids, their food/transportation/housing for two nights, and prizes for the overall winners.

I need to raise about $100 to take care of my kids -- if you have a couple extra bucks, please please please send it in!  I'll love you forever, and write you a pretty thank-you note.  Soulemane and Estelle absolutely, positively deserve the trip, and I promise to post lots of pictures of them as they see parts of their country they'd probably never get to see otherwise.  Here's the link:

And here are their answers to the questionnaire I made them fill out when they were still shaking from the competition:

Name: Estelle
Age: 13 years
Village: Adanmagni
Class: 6eme M2 (My class!)
Favorite food: Rice, macaroni, and cold water
Favorite subject: History-Geography
What do you like to do in your spare time? Have you visited Natitingou before? No.

Name: Soulemane
Age: 13 years
Village: Djegou-Nagot
Class: 5eme M3
Favorite food: Rice, "mankaronie", pate and sauce with fish or meat
Favorite subject: History-Geography
What do you like to do in your spare time? (he wrote this in English) I like playing football.
Have you visited Natitingou before? No.

Weekly Update: 3.19.11

  • St. Pattycure!  I have awesome green + gold French tip nails right now... hilarious, tacky, and oh so festive!
  • New pork restaurant, discovered this week.  It's a little expensive, but the meat is delicious, they have yet to give me organs or fat chunks or skin with hair still on it, and it's protein!  I took it home last week and made a spicy pork and "cheese" sandwich... sooo good.  Next week, I'm thinking of trying for chili.
  • New clothes.  I got a new sleeveless modelle made (lightbulb tissu... it's fantastic), and a sundress.  Both are really cute... I'll try to upload a picture of one soon.
  • Teaching Kids to Study.  I noticed during a recent teachers' meeting that about 75% of the 3eme students (the oldest we have in our school, 10th-ish grade) are failing.  That's not good.  Part of the problem is lack of understanding, but another part is a lack of studying effectively.  So I'm teaching each 3eme class how to study: good study environments, how to find the time, and different methods that actually work like flashcards and quizzing eachother.  I'm not sure it'll work, but I figure it's worth a try... if they care, they can take what I teach them and try it out for themselves.  I also always offer to help in English, because that's one of the problem subjects.  Anyway, so I did the first one this week, and despite being intimidated by how big they were (most are 18ish, but some are older than I am and like 7 ft. tall), it went really well!  They thought I was hilarious, and even if they don't study, they can't say they didn't have any way to practice their English lessons.
  • Girls club!  Had my second girls' club, and it was awesome!  I already wrote about it in the last post, but I'm really excited about the next couple of lessons -- yay sex ed!  In another woman-related victory, the secretary of the school came to me with her boy troubles, which was really flattering.  Plus, I can actually help her out on the issue, which is even better.
  • Weekend in Cotonou.  First in 3 weeks... Lord, how I missed free internet.  Check out new pictures on my Facebook account.
  • Thanks for packages!  I was blown away -- I got like 5, plus lots and lots of fun letters to respond to.  Thanks so much, everyone!  Every letter/package/Valentine's day card makes my week. :)

Girls Club!

Since the beginning of time, like before I got to Benin, I have really, really wanted a girls club.  It's been my goal project for months.  After months of planning, explaining, and dealing with confused and patronizing administration, I finally got my club running last week.  Let the empowerment begin!

The first week we just kind of played.  I made them introduce themselves (there were 9), and we talked about what the club was going to be: a place to be together as women, to learn things that they don't get to learn in school, and a place to talk about any problems they're having.  I told them I wanted to teach them about sexual health and contraception, sexual harassment, staying in school, planning a career, and their rights as women in Benin. 

Then, to break it up and get to know eachother, we played games (some more successful than others -- the human knot totally confused them) and learned a song that I'd written (in French!) for the club:

(to the tune of "Everywhere We Go")
N'importe ou nous allons,
The gens veulent connaitre
Qui nous sommes,
Donc, nous disons:

Nous sommes les jeunes filles,
Les fortes, intelligentes filles.
Nous sommes les jeunes filles,
Les fortes, intelligentes filles!

The next meeting (this week, the 17th-ish), we did a questionnaire to help me plan lessons.  I asked about what they wanted from life, what they saw their weaknesses and strengths as being (most girls wrote "dishes" as a strength and "laundry" as a weakness), and what they knew about sex.  The results were... enlightening.  Out of the 16 that showed up this time, 5 want eight or more kids.  Over half thought that hunger and death were major consequences of sex.  And under the "what I want to be when I grow up" question, several wrote "Madame"... as in a married woman.  Oh, how far we have to go. 

I thought I should reward them with a fun activity, so after all of that we made journal covers:  I brought in all of my art supplies from home, and we made covers for the little notebooks I asked them to bring next week.  You wouldn't believe how crazy they were about stickers -- it was a race to see who could slap the most on in the smallest amount of time, with no planning or organization whatsoever.  Anyway, so we made those, they looooved arts and crafts time, and next week we'll start journaling on a weekly basis.  Yay journals!  Next week we'll also (hopefully) have the local obstetrician/midwife come in to explain the reproductive systems (I got up the guts to go ask her last week), and after that a volunteer friend is coming to explain contraception.  I'm excited to see if it works out!

I've taken pictures of some of the girls, and I'm hoping to introduce them to you as I keep you updated on the club.  Let me know if you have any ideas, and yaaaaaay for girls' empowerment!

Weekly Update: 3.10.11

  • Lou, Sam & I had our first closemate date this Saturday.  We each cooked something (eggplant burgers, peanut butter cookies, salad), and then we hung out and laughed at each other for a whole evening.  We will be doing that more often in the future. : )
  • Site Visit #2.  My Peace Corps boss Cyprien came to watch me teach, and I was terrified that the class (5eme, the one with the most discipline problems) would do something terrible.  Fears were unneccessary -- for some reason (maybe because there was a man in the room), they were absolute angels!  We did a really fun lesson (directions -- I pretended to be a zemidjan driver and they had to tell me where to go... while riding on the back of my invisible motorcycle), and Cyprien took me out to lunch afterward.
  • Sunday I didn't go to church, citing sickness that was maybe a little exaggerated (my village must think I have the immune system of a newborn bubble boy).  Later that day, Juliette gave me 6 gigantic avocados, and another new neighbor fixed me a big plate of spicy spaghetti with 2 eggs and chicken.  I'd feel guilty, but... free food!
  • Spelling bee!  Finally had the long-awaited competition with the help of two other English professors, and I'm thrilled with the outcome.  Both of the winners, Soulemane and Estelle, worked their butts off to win, studying at home and after classes some days.  Estelle was so nervous that she couldn't talk after she won, and Soulemane, even though he's usually pretty cocky, was likewise shaken.  I'm going to prep another post on this soon, but in June I'm taking the two to the national spelling bee in Natitingou (waaay up north), and I have to ask yall for money again.  Sorry!  But know that the two who won absolutely, totally deserved to win.
  • We finally had elections!  There were only minor issues on the actual day, such as no one knew where they were supposed to be voting.  If you lived next to a voting center, you were definitely not voting there, though... Beninese logic confuses me.  Anyway, so you voted by putting your thumbprint on a piece of paper, there was no privacy whatsoever, and it was close.  We'll probably have another round of voting within two weeks so that one candidate wins 50% of the vote.
  • The largest spider I have ever seen in my life was on my ceiling when I got home from school one day. I didn't notice it til I'd walked under it 2 or 3 times (ughhhh), but when I did notice it I responded in a typical way: I called an 11-year-old to kill it for me.  It took her a bit and she had to chase it around, but once it was dead I checked it out.  Giant, hairy, and with a kind of chestnut-looking circle on its back.  I wanted to know more:
    • Me: "What kind of spider is that?  What's it eat?"
    • Gerardine: "A person spider." (apparently sees this as a full response, starts walking away)
    • Me: "Umm... explain that.  How is it a person?"
    • Gerardine: "Oh, it's a person.  When you want to kill someone with gri-gri but aren't strong enough, you turn them into a spider.  Or that's a sorcerer who turned himself into a spider to get revenge on someone -- he'll find them and bite them and then turn back into himself.  Then the bitten person will get very sick and maybe die."
    • Me: "But does it eat like mangoes or flies or blood...?"
    • Gerardine: "Don't worry, you're a yovo, he won't try to kill you, just someone else who made him angry.  Also, he's dead now."
    • Me: "Oh. Thanks."

Weekly Update: 3/4/11

  • I am not dead.  I realize it might have seemed like I was, thanks to the total lack of blogs for almost a whole month, but I am not.  Being stuck in post sans interwebs because of elections sucks.
  • Big Congrats to my awesome Jonesian friends Cat Swanson and Jim Doty for getting their Peace Corps invites!  Cat's going to Kazakhstan in later March, and Jim's going to be near(ish) to me in Ghana.  Cheers for them!
  • Elections in West Africa don't really run on the "fixed date" idea.  After being on the ready-to-run standfast stage (can't leave village, have a bag packed and an escape route planned) for close to a week, we found out that the 'lections were rescheduled... again.  That'd be the 3rd election date.  Fingers crossed that Sunday they finally pick a prez.
  • Campaigns in West Africa are not the high budget affairs we're used to in the States.  There are no fancy graphics, wardrobe overhauls, or highly televised debates... as far as I know there are no debates at all. They do billboards (often with pictures that look like candids from Uncle Semako's birthday party 3 years ago), and they do motorcycle "parades" with fellow villagers trickriding (hilarious).  The incumbent, YAYI Boni, has songs written about him in at least 7 of the most common local languages.  The songs go, as transcribed by fellow PCV Dave Cowell,
  • Taco Night was last weekend, but thanks to standfast I didn't get to blog it.  I spent spring break #1 doing a little tour of the southwestern part of Benin (the Mono Couffo region) and visiting my friends Dione and Scott.  The last night, we all went over to our friend Erik's post for one of his famed taco nights.  Yall, I can't even tell you how much I missed Tex-Mex, and we threw everything we had into the meal: one couple brought amazing pineapple salsa, I did guacamole, someone brought REAL CHEDDAR CHEESE from Cotonou(!), and Erik and Dione made the most amazing tortilla shells ever.  Combined with a huge number of other volunteers (like 14 of them), it was a fantastic night.
  • There's a Voodoo Fetish in the Schoolyard.  The director made an announcement that there's a dangerous something in the bush part of the schoolyard and that none of the students should go near it.  One of my students went near it.  Then her foot swelled up to the size of her head, and she had to stay home from school for a week.  Don't mess with gri-gri.
  • March 9th: Spelling bee!  Excited!
  • What does it do?  An older boy at the school brought me a goodie bag the French people gave some students last year.  He loved the nice pens and colored pencils, but was completely baffled by the glue stick and Play-Doh.  "What... are they? What should I do with them?"  I gave a little demonstration with the gluestick and made a chicken with the Play-Doh, and I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head.  Ah, the wonder of available school supplies.
  • Two excellent sentences that I got this week on homework:
    • You go pounded yam.
    • Sebastien is as intelligent as fish. (This written by Sebastien himself, the fishbrain.)
  • Read three books in a week.  Am no longer worried that I won't make my goal of 75 books in 2 years.
  • Oranges: Nature's Currency.  This week, I got lazy.  I decided I didn't want to take me trash out.  I put the pail on my front porch and waited til my neighbor girl Chancelline offered to take it out.  I paid her an orange to do so.  This started a trend, and suddenly ass my friends uder the age of 8 desperately wanted a job to earn an orange.  Five oranges later, I had a scrubbed porch, a swept front "yard" and, most impressively, a clean litterbox.  I love oranges.